After an early playoff exit last year, Allen Park has made it through the first two rounds this season and on Friday night will welcome in a strong Chelsea team to battle for a Division 3 regional title.
The Jaguars took on defending district champion Redford Thurston last week and handed the Eagles a 37-14 defeat to move on in the postseason.
The Bulldogs advanced with a 29-16 victory at Trenton, which squashed hopes of anyone who wanted to see a re-match between Downriver League co-champs Allen Park and the Trojans.
Against Thurston last week, the Jags’ strong defense kept running back and University of Toledo-commit Alonzo McCoy in check most of the night, with the exception of a 60-yard touchdown run.
On the other side of the ball, Thurston became the latest victim of a run-heavy Jags’ offense that can wear down a defense with its deep and talented backfield.
Running back Nate Berrelez has been the squad’s No. 1 option to carry the ball and two weeks ago he scored a pair of touchdowns in the playoff opener against Riverview.
Reid Pafhaussen has given opposing teams nightmares, as well, and last week he ran for two touchdowns en route to Allen Park’s first district title since 2006.
Isaac Monte, Michael Bress, Ryan Fish, Tyler Marsee, Tom Kochaneck and Jake Bergiel are among the many others who have gotten touches this year for the green and white.
At quarterback is the fleet-footed Antonio Mangiapane, who can take off with the ball himself at any given time and leave defenders in the dust. Last week he ran in two touchdowns and with his strong arm also found Matt Arnoldy for a score.
JR Whiteford has stood out at receiver all year and caught touchdown passes in some of the squad’s biggest games, including the 23-13 road win against then-unbeaten Trenton.
Making it all go has been a big, physical offensive line which features the likes of 6-foot-3, 260-pound Sean Stephens and 5-foot-11, 260-pound Ryan Compean.
With all of that said, the Jags are going to have their hands full against the Bulldogs this week and there’s a good chance it will be a close one that’s decided in the final minutes.
Chelsea receiver Bailey Edwards, who is the brother of former U-M star Braylon Edwards, is a Division 1 college prospect and in the opening round against Romulus he caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Jack Bush. In a late-season battle with Divine Child Edwards ran back a kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown.
Speaking of special teams, the Bulldogs’ Cam Cooper terrorized Trenton last week, as he returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown and set up an earlier score with a 51-yard punt return.
Leading the way at running back for Chelsea is Trey Seitz, who was quiet early on last week, but had some big runs in the second half, including a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Defensively, Chelsea has only give up nine points a game, on average, and during the regular season had a five-game shutout streak.
Should Friday’s matchup come down to a field goal, but squads feature strong kickers.
The Jags have Michael Beyst and Graham Kuras handles the duties for the Bulldogs. Kuras also plays defensive back and sealed the win last week at Trenton with an interception in the end zone.
An Allen Park victory on Friday would give the team its first regional championship since 2004.
While Chelsea has been a successful program, and only missed the playoffs once in the last 17 years, the Bulldogs have never won a regional title.
Friday’s winner will move on to play either Coldwater or St. Joseph next week in the state semifinals. The contest will be held at a neutral site and the winner will head to Ford Field the following week to play for a state championship.